HAMEL — Jeff Johnson, a Republican rooted in Minnesota politics for a dozen years, on Sunday became the latest candidate to announce a 2014 challenge to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, casting himself as the type of candidate the GOP needs to break its electoral dry spell.
Johnson, 46, is the second candidate to launch a bid in as many weeks. He joins Orono businessman Scott Honour in vying for the GOP nomination.
The Hennepin County commissioner is hoping to frame himself as the GOP candidate conservative enough for convention delegates but without the hard-right reputation that could scare off general election voters. He said his party has had difficulty shaking its image as being out to protect the rich, and that his candidacy would help it do that.
"We can't win a statewide race with only Republican votes. The numbers just aren't there in Minnesota," Johnson said. "But we also need to recognize we can't win a statewide race without a very excited and energized Republican base."
He added, "I think the activists of this party are going to be ready to pick someone who is reliably conservative and very principled, but who also can appeal to a broader group of people."
To that end, Johnson told reporters that he personally wants marriage to remain exclusively between a man and a woman, but he wouldn't pressure Republican legislators to vote against a gay marriage bill in coming weeks at the Capitol. "There shouldn't be some effort to drive them out of the party," he said.
Johnson said he doesn't support tax increases, but that he wouldn't sign a no-new-taxes pledge — or any other pledge — because he thinks they become a distraction.
Since 2011, he has been the Republican National Committeeman from Minnesota. Johnson said he will relinquish that position once a successor is chosen later this year.